Can Indoor Farms Feed Humanity?

Is indoor farming a healthy alternative to the mass production of Genetically Modified Organisms? Given GMO toxicity, will governments adopt indoor farming instead?

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
July 22, 2011

Depending who you talk to, scientists and trend forecasters believe that in 30 years time, most people will live in urban centers -so much for Arthur C. Clarke’s rural communities prediction-. Also in 30 to 40 years, food will be one of the most, if not the most valuable commodity. The one characteristic that all commodities have in common to make themselves valuable is its scarcity. Diamonds are not valuable because of how easy they can be harvested. Water does not spur conflict because of its transparent color. These two commodities are valuable because overall they are scarce or are becoming scarce.

Scarcity is a trait that diamonds and water are beginning to share with food. The reasons for this varies in different parts of the world, but my educated guess is that the main cause is food price speculation. Given this fact, does it not make sense to look for ways to guarantee food availability for all? Well, not if it is for food speculators to decide. Fortunately, each of us has the power to decide for ourselves.

The next great thing when it comes to food supply is having our own food greenhouses. Food greenhouses can vary in size, and that is one of their beauties. They can be small enough to feed an individual, a family, a small community or a whole city. But greenhouses are not the novelty here. The new great alternative -at least for me- is vertical farming, that is, having our own greenhouses where we can plant our own food in the middle of the city we live in. It is its verticality what gives this kind of farming its charm. Since more and more people decide to move to the large urban centers, and food there is usually less available than, say, the countryside, vertical farming becomes a space efficient, alternative for those who have the space in their homes or communities.

On a personal note, vertical farming is all urban humans need in order to be food independent, much like farmers are in rural areas. But a key point here is that since we have the choice -no matter what the government says- to feed ourselves with our own food, it is a great opportunity to choose healthy food. In other words, clean seeds, clean vegetables and fruit instead of GMO seeds and GMO agricultural products. Depending on what your urgency for food is and where you are located, it is urgent that you go out and scout for clean, organic seeds before they are just a thing of the past. That’s right. With a handful of companies pushing for bans on organic farming and food monopolies, it only makes sense to be food independent while we can. Here is where vertical farming comes in.

Population Growth vs Food Availability

Although many people relate food scarcity to overpopulation and say the planet is running out of food and space, research shows that at current levels, the planet could feed its whole population in an area the size of Texas. Because some researchers believe human population will grow out of control in the next decades, they estimate that there will not be enough food for everyone. However, studies done by organizations like the Population Research Institute show that the world’s population will grow to 9 billion to then stabilize and decrease to a healthy level, naturally. Studies also show that there is currently enough food to feed everyone on the planet.

So why are some researchers and politicians sounding the alarms of overpopulation and food scarcity on the wrong tones? My own research by talking to people in those two groups show that it is a combination of economics, corruption and ignorance. In fact, overpopulation has been profoundly unmasked as a lie and although food scarcity is a problem in many parts of the world, it is not a result of overpopulation, but food price speculation, food monopolies and war.

Going back to Vertical Farming, according to the Spiegel Online, urban agriculture may be a solution to feed more people, in more places in the world. “Agricultural researchers believe that building indoor farms in the middle of cities could help solve the world’s hunger problem. Experts say that vertical farming could feed up to 10 billion people and make agriculture independent of the weather and the need for land. There’s only one snag: The urban farms need huge amounts of energy.”

But despite any snags, people in countries where space is a luxury are already planning and executing vertical farming projects. In South Korea, independent researchers are already cultivating food in indoor greenhouses. “Heads of lettuce are lined up in stacked layers. At the very bottom, small seedlings are thriving while, further up, there are riper plants almost ready to be picked.”

In his book The Vertical Farm, Dr. Dickson Despommier explains how vertical farming may be the solution to world hunger with or without overpopulation.

“An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.”

How does vertical farming compare to traditional outdoor farming. Here is a list of reasons why vertical, indoor farming is an option to be food independent and plant your own fruit and vegetables regardless of whether you have a five story building available for planting or not.

Advantages of Vertical Farming (From TheVerticalFarm.com)

  • Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
  • No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of
    evapotranspiration
  • VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible
    parts of plants and animals
  • VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
  • VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers
  • VF creates new employment opportunities
  • We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on
    earth
  • VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
  • VF offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical
    LDCs. If this should prove to be the case, then VF may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production.
  • VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water
    and land for agriculture

Dr. Dickson Despommier believes we are at the doors of another farming revolution. Although this new way of being food independent may not be available to everyone at an industrial level, people can take the methods and techniques and adapt them to their corner of the world. Humans had to experiment for hundreds or even thousands of years to understand how farming techniques could play to their benefit. However, growing crops is now taken for granted. Masses of land that were once used to feed ourselves before are now unused or turned into wastelands mainly because of government or corporate intervention.

That is why vertical indoor farming is such a great alternative to attain food security.

See a complete photo gallery of vertical farming prototype projects here.